Synopsis - A Midsummer Night's Dream

A Midsummer Night's Dream

By William Shakespeare, 1595–96

Setting: Athens , Greece and a wood outside the city, in mythical times


The complex plot of A Midsummer Night's Dream may be best explained by dividing it into its three basic units: the Royals and Lovers, the Mechanicals, and the Fairies.

The Royals and the Lovers:

As Theseus, the Duke of Athens, and Hippolyta prepare for their wedding, Egeus, a nobleman of the town, comes before them to seek assistance with his disobedient daughter, Hermia. Egeus wants her to marry Demetrius, but she wants to marry Lysander. According to the law of Athens , she must marry the man her father chooses or die. Theseus acknowledges that Egeus has the law on his side, but offers Hermia the alternate choice of becoming a nun. Lysander and Hermia decide to run away so that they can be married. Before they leave, they see Helena, Hermia's best friend, and tell her of their plans. Helena is in love with Demetrius and, in hopes of proving her loyalty to him, tells him of Hermia's escape. As Lysander and Hermia travel through the woods the following night, Demetrius attempts to track them down with the love-sick Helena close in tow. While in the woods, fairies play tricks on the young lovers. Through magic, Demetrius and Lysander both suddenly fall madly in love with Helena . This confusion leads to a quarrel, which Oberon, King of the Fairies, stops. Oberon shortly puts the relationships as they should be; Demetrius is in love with Helena , and Lysander is in love with Hermia. When they wake the next morning, the Duke decides to allow Lysander and Hermia to marry. Demetrius, transformed by the evening in the woods, proclaims his renewed love for Helena . They joyously return to Athens and are married alongside Theseus and Hippolyta.

The Mechanicals:

Several of the workers of Athens have decided to perform a play for the Duke on his wedding day. Peter Quince, a local carpenter, gathers the five craftsmen thought best skilled to perform the play; Nick Bottom, Francis Flute, Robin Starveling, Tom Snout and Snug. Bottom, a weaver with great aspirations to be an actor, is cast as Pyramus, a noble young man. Flute, a young man with a high voice, is cast as Thisbe, the girl that Pyramus loves. The group decides to rehearse in the woods outside town so that they won't be disturbed. When they meet to rehearse, they too are subjected to fairy pranks. Puck, a very mischievous spirit, replaces Bottom's head with that of a donkey. This sight frightens the other craftsmen so badly that they run home to Athens , leaving Bottom alone in the forest. Titania, who has been sleeping nearby, awakes and, through a spell cast by Oberon, falls madly in love with the donkey-headed Bottom. Later, when Titania and Bottom are released from the fairy spells, Bottom believes that he has simply had a fascinating dream and rushes off to find his friends. Reunited once again, the Mechanicals hurry off to the palace and perform their play for the Duke and Duchess.

The Fairies:

When the play begins, Titania and Oberon, Queen and King of the Fairies, are feuding because Titania refuses to give Oberon a human child left in her care. Oberon, furious that Titania will not give him the boy, uses a magical flower to place a spell on her. The spell will make the Fairy Queen fall in love with the first creature that she sees when she wakes, no matter how hideous it might be. When she awakes, the first creature she sees is Nick Bottom, a mortal on whom Puck has placed a donkey's head. She falls madly in love with the transformed man, and orders her fairies to be wait on her new love, feeding and entertaining him. Before releasing her from his spell, Oberon takes custody of the changeling boy. No longer fighting, Titania and Oberon then go with the rest of the fairies to celebrate Duke Theseus' wedding day.


Major Characters:

The Athenian Royals and Lovers:

Theseus – the Duke of Athens

Hippolyta – the former Queen of the Amazons, she is betrothed to Theseus

Egeus – an Athenian gentleman and father to Hermia

Hermia – daughter to Egeus, she is in love with Lysander

Lysander – a young Athenian who is in love with Hermia

Demetrius – a young Athenian who is a suitor to Hermia, and her father's preferred choice for his daughter's hand

Helena – Hermia's best friend, she is in love with Demetrius, who had wooed her until he switched his affections to Hermia

Philostrate – an attendant to Theseus

The “Rude Mechanicals”:

Peter Quince – a carpenter who serves as the director of the workmen's production of Pyramus and Thisbe

Nick Bottom – a weaver who thinks highly of his own acting abilities, he plays the lead in Pyramus and Thisbe , and runs afoul of fairy magic

Francis Flute – a bellows-mender, he is cast (against his will) as Thisbe, “the lady that Pyramus must love”

Robin Starveling – a tailor who is eventually cast in the role of “Moonshine”

Tom Snout – a tinker who is eventually cast as the Wall that separates Pyramus and Thisbe

Snug – a joiner (furniture-maker) who is cast as the Lion that menaces Thisbe, he worries that he will have difficulty memorizing his part

The Fairies:

Oberon – the king of the fairies, currently feuding with his wife Titania

Titania – the queen of the fairies

Puck – also known as “Robin Goodfellow,” he is the mischievous trickster who serves Oberon

Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth and Mustardseed – fairies attending on Titania

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